by Christa Melnyk Hines
Wondering how to help your child retain reading, writing and math skills she gained over the school year this summer without making it feel like work? Weave learning into daily errands and interactive activities found in your own backyard.
“Summer is a great opportunity for parents to participate and come up with projects on their own and learn what their kids are interested in,” says Dr. Ashley Norris, assistant dean, University of Phoenix College of Education.
According to the National Summer Learning Association, students who don’t participate in any summer enrichment or educational activities lose about 22 percent of knowledge and skills gained during the school year. Teachers generally spend the first two months of school reviewing past material.
By helping your children make the connection between what they learn in school and how the material relates to the real world, they’ll retain more of their new skills and grow into more engaged, enthusiastic learners.
- Calculate tips.Next time you and your family eat dinner out, help your child determine the tip when the bill arrives.
- Grocery shop.Dictate your grocery list to your child and have him keep track of the list. As you shop, talk about prices, sales and healthy choices.
- Visit the farmer’s market. Peruse seasonal produce native to the area. Ask about fruits and veggies you and your kids have never heard of before. Practice math skills by giving your child a list, a budget and some money to shop at the market.
- Grow a garden. Your child can learn more about her environment by cultivating her own fruits and vegetables. No room in your yard? Grow a container garden together. Your child can take pictures or make notes in a daily gardening notebook detailing the life cycle of the plant, any problems encountered and how she worked to solve those issues.
- Cook together. Involve your child in meal planning and preparation. Depending on your child’s age, Jessica Velazquez, a healthy living director for the YMCA, suggests putting him in charge of a meal once a week. “I remember being in third grade and having one night a week where I was in charge of dinner,” she says. “And yes, we often had cereal or mac ‘n’ cheese.” Following a recipe also helps your child practice fractions and reading.
- Head to the mall.How much is 20 percent off? When bargain shopping with your child, teach her how to calculate the prices of marked down items.
- Play travel agent.Thanks to the Internet, your child can easily research your family’s vacation or a hometown field trip. Give her a list of questions to answer about the location, cost and hours of a specific site she wants to visit. Continue the learning when you arrive at your destination. Catherine Elder says she and her 8-year-old daughter like to observe and talk about the tides, climate and sea life on their annual beach vacation.
- Tune in.If your child is passionate about music, attend local concert series in parks, which are often free. Encourage her to learn about the history of the music she’s interested in and read biographies of favorite musicians.
- Explore nature. Apply what your child has learned in life science to your backyard. “We always talk about different birds, bugs, and how flowers and trees grow. My daughter actually teaches me some things that she’s learned in school. It makes her feel good to know she is helping me learn, too,” Elder says. Science museums and nature outreach centers also offer inexpensive classes and camps.
- Go digital. Got a bug enthusiast? Have him grab the camera and go on a scavenger hunt for different species. When he’s done, he can make a digital presentation of his discoveries. “Many elementary kids know how to use multi-media even more than parents. They find it fascinating and think it’s fun,” Norris says.
- Nurture creativity. With increased emphasis on raising test scores, many schools no longer devote much class time for artistic development. But art education enhances creative thinking, motor skills and social and emotional development. Have a splatter paint party on canvas in your backyard. Watercolor on textured paper. Make collages out of old magazines. Further explore the visual arts at pottery cafes and art museums.
- Journal. Purchase an inexpensive journal or notebook that your child can personalize. Write a prompt or a question at the top of the page. Take turns writing messages and stories back and forth.
- Read together. “Children often say they don’t like to read because they’ve only read things chosen for them by others,” says Helma Hawkins, a children’s librarian. Summer is the perfect time to help your child find books and magazines that match his interests. Read together or start an informal book club with your child and a few friends. Schedule an afternoon to discuss the selection over milk and cookies.
- Practice time management.Assign a weekly project for your children with a deadline to help them practice time management skills. “Base it on their interest so it doesn’t feel like work,” Norris says. They can select and research a specific topic, create a digital slide show about what they learned and then present it to you or extended family.